Clio’s “Legal Trends Report” tries to suss out what lawyers are doing, exactly
What happens to the nearly six hours per day that lawyers spend on non-billable tasks? Why can’t attorneys dedicate more of their time to billable work? How do they spend their time, anyway? The 2017 “Legal Trends Report” from Clio attempts to answer these questions and others that legal professionals are—or at least should be—asking themselves.
The report, based on a survey of nearly 3,000 legal professionals, finds that lawyers only spend 29 percent of an 8-hour work day, or about 2.3 hours, on billable tasks—and when factoring in realization and collection rates, firms reap only 1.6 hours of billable time.
Nearly half of their time, 48 percent, goes into office administration, billing, technology and collections. One-third of their non-billable time goes toward business development, which means they’re constantly making sure they develop new clients, and 41 percent would spend even more time on business development if they could, the Clio report says.
More than half of law firms (54 percent) actively advertise their services to earn new clients, yet the overwhelming majority can neither calculate their return on investment in advertising (91 percent), nor know how much it costs them to acquire a new client (94 percent).
How can law firms improve their client acquisition? Clio also surveyed more than 2,000 consumers to find out what they want in a lawyer, and what influences their decisions on which firm to hire for a given case or matter.
Personal referrals from friends and family were by far the most frequently used search method (62 percent), while referrals from other lawyers (31 percent), online searches (37 percent) and directory listings (28 percent) were also relatively common. Advertising has a much lower influence, whether television (13 percent), online (13 percent), radio (7 percent) or billboards (6 percent).
Communication and pricing were top of mind for consumers in deciding which attorney or firm to hire. Responding to phone or e-mail right away (67 percent) and free initial consultations (64 percent) were the most sought-after qualities, Clio found.
Fixed fees (47 percent), accepting credit cards (28 percent) and being willing to exchange text messages (27 percent) were other common desires. Although online search was common, the snazziness of the firm’s website influenced only 19 percent of respondents.
The “Legal Trends Report” also contained figures on average billable hour rates. The average law firm rate is $240 overall, $260 for lawyers and $149 for non-lawyers. The average Chicago firm charges $312 per hour, third-highest among the 10 largest U.S. metropolitan areas, behind only New York and Los Angeles.
Yet the survey data shows that many firms don’t have set targets for how much they plan to earn in a given year, nor case by case. Slightly more than half (54 percent) could estimate their annual billings, half can bill a case based on a set budget, and less than half (40 percent) of firms that track time have hourly billing budgets.
Clearly, many of these respondents need to get a better handle on what they need to make, how they plan to do it, and then how to rejigger their time to be able to bill for a higher percentage of their time … or their own personal trends won’t be headed in the right direction.